Lowcountry woman paddles through adversity, on to dragon boat world championship in China

A Lowcountry woman will compete in China next week as a member of the United States National Dragon Boat Team. The team looks to bring home the world championship in dragon boat racing, a team sport that dates back 2,000 years.

Jessica Key has faced every type of adversity, overcome every addiction, after 22 years out of the water, she has reconnected with her Hawaiian roots.

“It is surreal,” she said. “I’m still trying to take it all in as humble as I know how.”

Key, an Oahu, Hawaii, native is still paddling the high from all her hard work.

“I would go to work, do the 40-hour thing, and after work, I would do another training,” she said. “I’d leave home when it was dark and come home when it was dark. Sometimes my kids were already asleep .”

In a little more than a year she paddled her way to a top spot on the U-S National Dragon Boat Team.

The practices in the Rivertowne retention pond paid off, she said.

“It’s a really, really competitive sport. We have elite athletes from all over the country.”

With only 22 spots on the team, she still isn’t sure how she gained one of the coveted seats

She knows it has a little something to do with her faith and fight.

“For me, even though I had all these odds stacked against me, I was always a fighter,” she said. “I would never quit, even though I was an alcoholic, even though I was a drug addict. I did crystal meth. I even tried to commit suicide. All these things that happened I knew that there was more to me. I knew that I had a gift.”

She knows exactly who exactly who she sees when she looks in the mirror, too.

“I see someone who overcame insurmountable odds. Someone who has trained so hard. Someone who has sacrificed so much to be at this level, and I am truly humbled for that.”

When the team and the boat hit the water in China next week, Key will tap into her new found strength and beat to the drums of a childhood that gave her a love for the water.

“I grew up paddling in the outrigger canoes which is a six man canoe,” she said recalling her childhood in Oahu. “I was able to learn to trust my teammates and people in general. The sport gave me life. I know I have saltwater in my veins.”

Key leaves Friday for California, where team members from all over the country will meet for one last training session before heading to China.

To donate to her travel expenses and to read more about her background, click here.

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